Self-image is a funny think because it is not really contingent on the self. For me, I developed a self-image in fourth grade.
I idolized the seventh-grade girl who lived next door. She was older. She had already kissed boys. She wore make-up and she had fashion sense. One afternoon, I was over her house and she was flipping through a Vogue magazine. The pages were laden with pictures of Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, and Elle Macpherson.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” Lisa said gazing enviously at each and every picture.
“I guess,” I said. Sure they were beautiful, but to me, they weren’t real. They were pictures in magazines. I had never actually seen anyone dress the way these women were dressed, nor had I ever met anyone who looked like any of these girls.
“I think they are perfect.” Her fingers traced the outline of a Calvin Klein ad, a young woman without curves wearing a loose-fitting blouse over tight fitted pants, suggesting a figure that did not exist.
“How are you going to look like that?” I asked naively. At this point, Lisa stood and shut the magazine. She walked over to her dresser mirror and started to study her face and body. She traced her hand down her face to her chin and pulled at the skin underneath. She lifted her shirt and stared at her stomach, sucking in and puffing it out to see the difference. She turned and looked at her derriere, crinkling her nose as her eyes looked at her bum and thighs. Before me eyes, I saw an average seventh grader turn on herself. What she saw in the mirror is not what I saw. I saw a put together girl who boys liked and wanted to take for moped rides. She saw something else– something corpulent, something homely, something that was not what was being portrayed in American magazines.
“I think I am going to have to starve myself,” she said facing me. A look of determination crossed her face. She wanted to be what editors were toting as perfect. “You know,” she said sitting down next to me again. “You should think about dieting before it is too late. You know I read that a person should weigh one-hundred pounds when they are five feet tall, and then only gain five pounds for every inch past that.”
I swallowed hard. I looked down at my body. My thighs were thick and my stomach was the stomach of a well fed ten-year old. I was not fat, per se, but in no way was I skinny. Nonetheless, in that moment, I developed a self-image, and it wasn’t a good one. I was only four-foot eleven, and I was already almost 110 pounds. If Lisa was right, I was already too big. I had never thought about my size, but certainly, if Lisa thought it important to mention it to me, certainly others were thinking it, too.
I shrugged at her in response. I then looked down at my thighs and stomach a second time. They had gotten a lot bigger. I was self conscious, and although up until that point I had never really thought about my body, that day I realized I didn’t like it.